Yi (the consumer brand name of the less punchy and harder to pronounce Xiaoyi) is a Chinese company that makes a number of connected camera products. Alongside the M1 mirrorless and range of action cameras, Yi has a few different home cameras, and it's the entry level one I recently picked up in Amazon's holiday sales.
Normally it costs $28.99, which makes it astonishing value. The range is also compatible with Windows, though to get the most you'll still need a companion iPhone or Android device.
Easy setup, but use a phone
To use the Yi Home Camera you need an account, which you can either create from scratch or use a Facebook login. The Yi Home products come with an optional cloud storage subscription service, but needing an account for a connected product is hardly new. I used Facebook login and was ready to go in seconds.
Setting up the camera is really easy. However, using the Windows desktop app before I'd added any cameras to my account didn't seem to provide any option to do this on my PC. So it was over to an Android phone.
And honestly, unless you're still clinging to a Windows phone, you'll want to have the mobile app installed anyway. More on that later, but you won't get full functionality without it.
Setup takes only a couple of minutes and involves choosing the Wi-Fi network for your camera and pointing it at a QR code that is displayed on the screen. Audible messages come from the camera to tell you when each step has been achieved.
Solid hardware and design
The Yi Home Camera is a decent looking little thing, fairly understated in design and will easily disappear into the background in any room. It's designed to sit upright, but will fold basically flat in both directions, so you could mount it to a wall or window. There's nothing in the box to do this with, but something simple like 3M tape would probably suffice.
Power is delivered over microUSB and there's an included power adapter. On the side you get a microSD card slot for local recordings, round back a speaker and somewhere there's a microphone, too.
Sound quality is decent considering how cheap the camera is, and whether you're listening in from the companion app or you're talking to someone through the camera, sound is perfectly clear enough so there are no miscommunications.
The camera itself is only 720p for video, though Yi does have an upgraded (and more expensive) model with 1080p. The lens has a 111-degree field of view, which isn't as wide as something like Ring's external cameras, but in my house I've found it ample to cover most rooms.
Despite only being 720p and a fairly budget camera, video quality is decent. It shows faces perfectly well, colors are OK and even with kids running around, the images have always been perfectly legible.
The only issue you may encounter is a little network lag. The camera only connects to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and if it's a long way from the router you may get some lag. I've a mesh network at home so it's been fairly solid in any room, but even then, the initial connections sometimes take a little time to establish. Once you're watching though, it seems solid and the feed on screen is maybe a second or so behind real time.
But overall it's a very impressive little thing.
A good, but ultimately frustrating Windows experience
The Yi Home app for Windows PCs is good and bad in equal measures. The good is that it looks pretty decent, is easy to use and, seemingly once you've added a camera through a phone, you can add more cameras through the Windows app.
It gives you basic interaction with cloud videos or those on an SD card on the camera, as well as the ability to view one or multiple cameras live in SD or HD. You'll also be able to see motion alert notifications and view the clips as well as download them to your PC. Sadly the notifications won't appear in the Windows 10 notification area.
So, even without the cloud subscription, the Yi Home Camera is pretty useful. If you're in a position to monitor and react quickly to motion alerts, you get a lot from it. With a microSD card in the camera, you'll also get local recordings, too.
Where the Windows PC app is truly appalling is that it seems to log you out every time you close it. Without fail during the few days I've spent with this camera, I've had to log back in with my Facebook account every single time I've opened the app having previously closed it. That's just bad.
You also lose a lot of functionality if you're relying on the Windows PC app. It's great to use if you're in front of a PC all day and want to check on the house or see what the kids are up to in another room, but you can't set up any of the advanced features.
Motion alerts are the big one. You can't use these at all without going through a mobile app. You can't update the firmware of the camera, either, nor can you even do something as simple as turn off the status light.
Hopefully, this will all change over time. But right now, Windows compatibility is an added bonus to having an Android phone or an iPhone in your pocket.
The bottom line
The Yi Home Camera is the first connected home security camera I've tried, and I'm pleasantly surprised. My expectations were pretty low, but they've easily been exceeded. It's a nice looking little thing, is packed with features and at the price, I've no complaints about the hardware.
720p video is perfectly fine (to me at least) for a little device such as this, but there's always the upgraded model if you need or want higher res video. I also appreciate that there's a ton of functionality without the need to fork out for the cloud subscription service.
The only achilles heel is the Windows PC app. What it does, it does well, but it doesn't do nearly enough. Regardless of whether you need to use a phone initially, there's no real excuse not to be able to manage settings the same as the mobile app. If you're using this remotely (and why wouldn't you) on a PC, why shouldn't you be able to adjust your motion detection settings?
Hopefully, Yi will continue to build that out, as well as fixing the horrible bug that logs you out every time you close it. But niggles with the Windows app aside, it's a great little home camera for not much money.
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